Wednesday, July 4, 2012

The gift of fellowship

Psalm 65:4 (NIV)

Blessed are those you choose
   and bring near to live in your courts!
We are filled with the good things of your house,
   of your holy temple.
We spent the evening of Independence Day with five of the six couples from our small group. We gathered at my parents’ house for a few reasons. One, they are out of town the rest of the week. Two, they have the space to accommodate such a large group. Three, it’s walking distance to a prime fireworks viewing location.

My intent with this reflection requires a bit of background about the group. The couples gathered, all married, rage in age from late 20s to late 30s. The longest married couple has been together 16 years, a few of us have eclipsed the 10-year mark. We had eight children with us. The oldest is eight and entering third grade; she’s about a month older than Jack. The youngest is coming up on nine months — and one couple is expecting their second. It’s a broad spectrum.

Since everyone there has at least one child, and all of the women had given birth at least once within the last five years or so, a fair amount of the dinner conversation centered on labor and delivery stories, as well as a few tales of the many amusing (in retrospect) ways the very young get very ill. We talked about everything from how long the moms spent in labor, what time of the night we checked into the hospital, how older siblings reacted when little brothers and sisters arrived on the scene and just about anything else conceivable, including some detailed medical situations that, thankfully, waited until most folks had finished their main course.

As I listened to and partook in the conversation (blissfully, most of the older kids were off playing in another corner of the house and the little ones were more or less happily eating), I thought of how different things might be a decade down the road. After all, my parents have been in a small group with essentially the same people for about 20 years. Looking ahead to July 4, 2022, some of us parents will be getting ready to take our oldest children off to college and teaching their younger siblings how to drive. Some of the couples may have their own soon-to-be third-graders — children who haven’t been invented yet.

I prize the relationships we have with these couples and their children for so many reasons. We see ourselves as sort of the “bridge” of the group, since we are the only couple with both a toddler and a grade-schooler (and a Max in the middle), and it is beyond valuable for us to have as a resource so many close friends we can speak with openly about not just our faith but also our daily lives as parents and as married folks. It is a joy to see how our friends’ little girls have learned our boys’ names and seek them out for play. It’s a good feeling to have another family’s child come to me and ask for help with something (like a cup of water or directions to the bathroom) and to know my children can do the same with any of the other parents floating around.

Our kids are not going to grow up surrounded by cousins. I didn’t, either, so I’m not worried about it — but only because we have such a great pool of folks who can be like family. We know as long as we have friends like this we’ll never be alone. There will always be someone to step in during an emergency, to bring a meal when someone is in the hospital or to give a ride when a car is in the shop. Fortunately we haven’t often needed shoulders to cry on, but it has certainly happened a time or two in a few short years together. It would be silly to think it won’t happen again.

As with all things, I know we’re not promised tomorrow. So to picture our group 10 or 20 years into the future — still going to the same church, eating at the same restaurants, gathering at the same homes — is pure conjecture. I’d love to think we can stick together all those years, essentially growing up together as our kids go through school, get to watch as they all get married and start their own families and so on. And even though I’m pretty sure it won’t play out as cleanly as the vision I had this evening, I still take joy in the present moment, the comfort of having brothers and sisters in Christ who support us, accept our children and simply know what it means to be a good friend. I don’t know how I could navigate this parenthood journey without them.

A prayer for July 4:

Lord, I thank you for the gift of Christian fellowship. We are blessed as a family to belong to such a strong church community that extends beyond the walls of the congregational building into our homes, lives and hearts. Please help me to extend the kind of friendship I value being offered to us, and please help strengthen our group as we continue to grow — as parents, as husbands and wives and as believers. Amen.

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